Photo: Cows and small waves.


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Located off the coast of Quang Ngai province, small Ly Son Island (also known as Cu Lao Re) is a growing holiday spot for Vietnamese tourists yet somehow it has eluded the foreign travellers radar. A ferry from the mainland takes about an hour and Ly Son can be an interesting little getaway for fresh cheap seafood, photo ops and cultural insight.

Standing atop of Ly Son’s highest peak gives visitors a literal and figurative snapshot of why it’s known as garlic island: every inch of useable land grows garlic, shallots and onions, a neat patchwork of greens and beige blanketing the ground, engulfing houses, tombs and any other obstacle. Renowned for its quality and mild taste, Ly Son garlic is grown in tidy rows with a layer of sand on top of the volcanic soil.

Not in short supply on Ly Son Island. Photo taken in or around Ly Son Island, Vietnam by Cindy Fan.

Not in short supply on Ly Son Island. Photo: Cindy Fan

We were told this prevents the soil from getting too hot in the daytime and at night, cools it down quickly. Traditionally it’s planted in September and harvested February and March, though irrigation now allows for year round activity. As you ride around you’ll smell the garlicky aroma wafting from the fields. This island is great for foodies, not so much for vampires.

Aside from garlic, the island’s other industry is fishing and tourism, the trifecta coming together at restaurants serving cheap seafood with plenty of sweet garlic and onions. A seafood dinner is delicious fuel for your exploration of the sights. Aside from the magnificent panoramic view from Mount Thoi Loi, there’s a small natural stone archway, many pagodas including one inside a cliff facing the ocean and quaint daily scenes of fishing boats and women planting and harvesting heaps and heaps of garlic.

No chance of forgetting where you are. Photo taken in or around Ly Son Island, Vietnam by Cindy Fan.

No chance of forgetting where you are. Photo: Cindy Fan

Unfortunately swimming isn’t that great on the island. Most of the beaches are rocky and lack atmosphere for wanting to linger (ignore any marketing ploy describing Ly Son as the “Maldives of Vietnam”, that is beyond absurd). Hang Cau cave, on the northeast shore at the foot of Mount Thoi Loi is an okay spot, but most visitors should reserve beach time for An Binh island, a relatively easy day trip recommended if you’re already on Ly Son.

Quiet, laidback An Binh island is more in line with what foreign travellers are looking for with palm-lined beaches lapped by clear blue waters. But like Ly Son, the tiny island has a monstrous problem: rubbish—it’s everywhere, especially on the coast. There are new bins and signs entreating visitors to use them, however the issue is less to do with tourists. Locals are liberally dumping their trash and the island does not seem to have any waste management system. It’s a shame because the unsightly mess does mean you should think twice about visiting. We hope the community and local government will come together to do something soon.

Ly Son is famous for its seafood. Photo taken in or around Ly Son Island, Vietnam by Cindy Fan.

Ly Son is famous for its seafood. Photo: Cindy Fan

We’re not convinced Ly Son is worth going out of your way for, but certainly worth considering if you are passing through Quang Ngai, especially if visiting Son My Museum, the site of the My Lai massacre—Sa Ky port is not far from it and they are all connected from Quang Ngai by cheap air-con public bus. Two days—one for exploring Ly Son and another for An Binh—is plenty. Any more than that and you’ll likely become bored. Try to avoid the weekends and public holidays when there’s a mass influx of visitors.

Like all Vietnam islands, there’s a military presence. Obey signs to not enter restricted areas/take photos, including the very top of Mt Thoi Loi, Gieng Tien crater and lighthouses. It is especially touchy here given Ly Son’s proximity to the disputed Paracel Islands. Do not take photos of government and military buildings. As of late 2016, foreigners except those holding a Chinese or Hong Kong passport were allowed to visit. Check the situation on the ground before trying to head to the island.

Boats arrive to Thon Tay village, on the west coast of the island. The majority of the island’s accommodation and eateries are found around the pier. There’s a surprising number of places to stay, mostly in the form of very basic guesthouses and impersonal hotels that cater to Vietnamese tourists. There is now one upscale hotel in the middle of the island and a couple guesthouses in Thon Dong village, six kilometres away on the east side. A road along the southern coast connects the two villages.

Crystal waters. Photo taken in or around Ly Son Island, Vietnam by Cindy Fan.

Crystal waters. Photo: Cindy Fan

There’s only one ATM on the island. Find Agribank in Thon Tay, the village in the middle of the southern coast. The network includes Visa and Mastercard. It’s best to bring enough cash to last your entire stay in case the ATM is out of service.

The island follows Central Coast Vietnam weather patterns, meaning the best time to go would be around May to September, with the shoulder months being unpredictable.

Don’t count on anyone on the island speaking English. You may have some luck with finding a tourist who can on the boat ride over as it’s increasingly popular for Vietnamese in the big cities to learn English. If you’re desperate for translation help, you can also try the reception at Muong Thanh Holiday Hotel.

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What next?

 Browse our independent reviews of places to stay in and around Ly Son Island.
 Read up on where to eat on Ly Son Island.
 Check out our listings of things to do in and around Ly Son Island.
 Read up on how to get to Ly Son Island, or book your transport online with Baolau.
 Do you have travel insurance yet? If not, find out why you need it.
 Planning on riding a scooter in Ly Son Island? Please read this.
 Browse the web securely while travelling with TunnelBear. Try with a 7–day free trial.

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